Protecting biodiversity through transboundary solutions in Africa

Posted in : on 20 May 2021

This Saturday, May 22, marks Biodiversity Day 2021, under the slogan, “We’re part of the solution #ForNature.” The slogan is a continuation of the momentum generated last year under the over-arching theme that our solutions are in nature itself, underscoring that biodiversity remains the answer to sustainable development challenges. In this blog, we turn our attention to the power of Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs) and their goals to conserve ecosystems and support biodiversity.

Unsplash. The dung beetle plays a critical role in ecosystem management by aerating and mixing soil.

African elephants are masters of their surroundings. By picking up on ultra-low weather frequencies, elephants can hear a rainstorm 150 miles away. And would you believe some matriarch elephants can remember the exact location of waterholes as far back as 30 years? African elephants also play an important role in balancing natural ecosystems, maintaining plant populations, and biodiversity.

Biodiversity, short for biological diversity, refers to the inter-connectedness of species, ecosystems, and genes, and their interactions with the environment. 

Biodiversity: a vital resource worth fighting to protect

In Southern Africa, biodiversity contributes significantly to national economies. One measure of this is tourism’s contribution to a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In Mozambique, for example, tourism makes up about 8% of its GDP; in South Africa, 9%, and in Namibia, 11%. And while not all tourism is related to nature, for these countries with strong wildlife economies, a large percentage of their annual GDP is.

Biodiversity also contributes to the livelihoods of some of Africa’s poorest communities by providing food, fuel, medicine, water, and jobs. Freshwater biodiversity, for example, is key to food security within the four countries sharing Lake Tanganyika: Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. Fish account for 25-40 percent of the total animal protein supply in these countries. Therefore, unsustainable fishing and water pollution not only threaten the lake’s freshwater biodiversity, but also the food security of millions of people. And as an employer, wildlife-based tourism is big. Forthcoming analysis from the World Bank shows that in the Zambian National Parks of Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa, tourism in protected areas generates jobs for 14 percent and 30 percent of the total working age populations, respectively. Across Africa, the wildlife economy employs about 10 million people. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism jobs were on the rise, forecasted to increase to 23 million this decade, many of them nature-based.

Transboundary solutions to biodiversity protection

How can we ensure that countries work together to retain biodiversity’s richness and address threats to it and its losses?

Transboundary approaches to natural resource management – specifically, Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCA) – provide opportunities for effective protection and management, while also contributing positive and sustainable co-benefits for local populations. TFCAs are ecological regions that straddle the boundaries of two or more countries and include at least one of the following: a national park, game reserve, forest reserve, communal lands or conservation and tourism concession areas. In TFCAs, natural resources are collaboratively managed by the governments and authorities involved.

Leveraging transboundary approaches for water management

The World Bank, through its Cooperation in International Waters in Africa Program (CIWA), works to strengthen the power of TFCAs to support management of transboundary water and biodiversity to contribute toward resilient livelihoods.

In these Transfrontier Conservation Areas, transboundary water bodies are at the heart of sustaining biodiversity. CIWA’s work to understand and leverage water’s role and relationship to nature is a top priority and allows us to robustly support long-term conservation programs.

Erwin De Nys, CIWA Program Manager

Many TFCAs in Africa encompass critical upstream parts of key river basins, including the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) and Great Limpopo TFCAs. Economic activity in these upstream areas impacts water production and makes TFCAs, as a governance structure, an important ally and partner in sustainable water resources management and biodiversity monitoring.

In the Great Limpopo TFCA, which straddles Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, sits the Pafuri-Sengwe Node, a geography highly susceptible to both drought and poverty. These threaten livelihoods and leave communities less equipped to support biodiversity protection. Through CIWA’s Southern Africa Drought Resilience Initiative (SADRI), the World Bank supports work to identify and improve these conditions through a deeper understanding of the water resources available and how they are being utilized. Activities include assessments to determine the extent of groundwater aquifers, aboveground water systems, and current water demand and usage rates, especially among local communities. The work will also evaluate governance practices that are in place to manage water resources. The over-arching goal is to support more climate resilient communities that are better equipped to plan for and mitigate drought, contributing to a decrease in biodiversity loss.

The South African Development Community. A map of Southern Africa’s existing and proposed transfrontier conservation areas.

In South Africa and Botswana, studies are underway to understand the linkages among groundwater quality, groundwater levels, and biodiversityof the shared Khakea/Bray Transboundary aquifer. This work is led by the South African Development Community-Groundwater Management Institute (SADC-GMI) in collaboration with the Aquatic Systems Research Group (ASRG) at the University of Venda and the Institute for Groundwater Studies at the University of the Free State. Ultimately, the goal is to foster joint management of this and other transboundary ecosystems in the SADC region.

Protection through cooperation

TFCAs work because of their regional collaboration and shared goals to improve biodiversity, natural resources management, and socioeconomic development. They are also important for synchronizing wildlife management activities, which allows large migrating animals (such as elephants and zebras) to freely move in their ecosystem range and protect their populations, and for tackling regional challenges, such as drought. Through their institutional structures in the form of specific committees and implementing agencies, TFCAs make full use of regional know-how and trends, develop conservational strategies, and hold themselves accountable to their goals. 

Biodiversity is richest where there is a diversity of species, habitats, and vegetation all living together. It thrives on inter-connectedness. One of our best tools to protect this diversity may be our ability to connect as well, and TFCAs provide a proven model to do so.

Author: Sarah Moyer, Senior Environmental Specialist, World Bank
Photo Credits: Unsplash, World Bank

Learn more

The Southern Africa Drought Resilience Initiative (SADRI)

The 16 member states of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) are regularly impacted by droughts, which are becoming more severe and protracted with climate change. These recurrent droughts come with an immense human and economic cost. Estimates indicate that from 1980 to 2015, droughts have cost the region US$ 3.4 billion, and have directly affected over 100 million people.

The impacts of droughts in the region are felt across all economic sectors. When a drought hits Southern African cities, which are hubs of economic activity, these cities run out of water and power generation declines, cutting industrial productivity. Additionally, rural livelihoods, largely based on subsistence agriculture or wildlife conservation, collapse, causing widespread food insecurity and forced migration of rural women, who are among the worst affected. Therefore, the drought challenge requires an integrated and cross-sectoral response.

To help meet this challenge, and, with the support of CIWA, the World Bank recently launched the Southern Africa Drought Resilience Initiative (SADRI). The initiative represents a renewed approach that integrates across the energy-water-food-environment nexus to help lay the foundations for making Southern African countries more resilient to the multi-sectoral impacts of drought. The two-year program, which was inaugurated in July 2020, is utilizing an integrated drought risk management framework to generate knowledge and tools. These are intended to facilitate internal World Bank coordination, enhance partnerships across the SADC member states, and increase countries’ capacities with the intent of informing future national and regional investments in drought-related activities.

The SADRI is structured around three key pillars: 1) Cities, 2) Energy Systems, and 3) Livelihoods and Food Security. These pillars are coordinated through an umbrella pillar, and together, will deliver various technical assistance, analytical products, stakeholder engagement, and convening activities throughout 2020 and 2021.

Related content

Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area

Kavango–Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area

Southern African Development Community (SADC) Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs)

South African Development Community Groundwater Management Institute (SADC-GMI)

International Day for Biodiversity – 22 May, 2021

United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

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